Athlete of the week!
Introducing Mark-Mono Stewart. Born on the North Coast of NSW and a life member of Byron Bay Boardriders Club, the NSW athlete has just been crowned World Champion after winning the US Open Adaptive Surfing Championships in California. The 61-year-old is no stranger to the world of competitive surfing, after claiming this as his fifth World Title, and we want to know his secrets to winning! Here are some interview questions obtained from Mark himself, as we dove into his inspiring experience and expertise.
Congratulations on your win in solid wave conditions! Can you describe the emotions and thoughts that ran through your mind when you realized you had won such a prestigious event?
“Leading into the final I was nervous knowing I was tied for first on the AASP Tour leaderboard. The waves were solid and it looked hard to find the right ones. I was feeling pretty confident after finding two great waves and when the final siren went I was so relieved. The feeling of winning the US Open for the 5th time was exhilarating.”
Can you take us through a particularly memorable moment or wave from the championship that showcased your skills and determination?
“Almost half way into the final I was still chasing a good wave, with the sets mainly closing out it was going to be difficult. But the wind swung offshore quite strong which opened up the barrels a bit more. This set approached and had a different angle to it and appeared to be a bit peakier. I paddled hard into it looking at the right and it started pitching hard against the offshore breeze. I pulled in on the peak and had an awesome vision out of the barrel of the left coming at me. At that point time seemed to slow down enough for me to find and exit before it closed out. It gave me an out just as it slammed down behind me. I could hear the crowd screaming and hooting and resisted the temptation to make a claim!”
Adaptation is a key aspect of adaptive surfing. How have you adapted your equipment, approach, or mindset to perform at your best in varying wave conditions?
“My whole life has been a series of adaptations. Every aspect from surfing, working, home life, I have had to adapt to find the best option. Surfing wise, lefts are difficult because of my short stump, so I prefer if it’s just big and hollow so I don’t have to do a turn. Just pull in and hang on!”
What kind of training and preparation do you undertake to compete at the elite level of surfing, especially when it comes to handling challenging waves?
“Training wise I just surf. I don’t do gyms or anything anymore. I’m too old for that and I don’t think my body would handle it. I just surf and try to stay as fit as I can.”
The US Open Adaptive Surfing World Championship is a significant event in the adaptive surfing community. How has the championship evolved over the years, and what do you think its impact has been on the sport?
“It was the first major event to go professional, in 2017, and Chakka Webb and his team at Stoked For Life just make it better and better every year. They also started the World’s first Professional Tour last year. Run on a similar style to WSL, the AASP Tour. Next year in March in Byron Bay, Australia will be the first event on the 2024 AASP Tour, followed by Hawaii, Costa Rica then the US Open.”
What advice do you have for aspiring adaptive surfers who want to improve their skills and potentially compete at a high level like you?
“Just have a go. Surfing is accessible to everyone nowadays and you just need to reach out to us, or your local boardriders club and we will help you get into the ocean. It’s such a healing zone where you can feel normal and leave all your worries on the beach.”
Winning a world championship is undoubtedly a significant achievement. What does this title mean to you personally, and what message do you hope it sends to others?
“This is my 5th World Title and it feels as good as winning the first one. I had a tough year last year fighting stage4 metastasized melanoma in my lung and I just kept competing and it helped so much mentally. Seeing our adaptive community at all the events and being able to talk about it and share the highs and lows is what makes it so special. My family has been my strongest supporters and without their help and love I don’t know if I would be where I am today without them. I’m now cancer free and loving life.”
Photo by Bill Schilge
The only tube of the whole contest, ridden by Mark in the final of the US Open Adaptive Surfing Championships. Scored as an 8.83.